The whole process of setting up your RV can seem daunting, but with the right equipment and a solid order of operations you’ll master it in no time! We’re going to walk you through OUR process step by step for leveling and setting up our rig plus share some extra tips about our favorite equipment and some mistakes to avoid along the way.
We have a 2018 Grand Design Reflection 312BHTS, a Travel Trailer, that we tow with a Ford F350. Our rig has a Husky Centerline weight distributing sway control hitch system installed for safer towing and control while on the road. The steps below can be translated to other types of RV’s like 5th Wheels, but there will obviously be some small differences. We’ll try and call those out where appropriate. Let’s get to it!
I Just Got To My Site – What Now?
Before we even get to talking about leveling, wheel chocks, stabilizers, and all that fun stuff, there are a couple things you should check out before you even pull into your site. Some campgrounds assign you a site before or during check-in, and others just tell you to drive around and find one you like. In both scenarios we highly recommend you hop out of your truck and check out the site before you pull into it.
Where are the power, water, and sewer hookups? What obstacles are in the way? Make sure to look up and around for branches and wires! Do you need to be farther to the left, right, front, or back of the site because of how your slides will open? Is there a lot of slope in some direction? Are there annoying things like ant hills, muddy spots, or anything else you don’t want to be stepping into every day? These are all things to keep in mind as you get eyes on your site. You may not have a ton of wiggle room depending on the size of the site, but more often than not you’ve got a couple feet in every direction so you can get in there just right.
After you’ve figured out where and how you want to sit on that site, go ahead and pull in and get yourself where you’d like to set up. This brings us to…
Leveling Side to Side
There are few things worse than a rig that’s leaning to one side. You’ll feel clumsy walking around, sleeping will be difficult, and some of your appliances may not even function correctly. Did you know that most refrigerators won’t cool properly, or at all, if they’re not close to level for an extended period of time?
Now that you’ve got your RV into your site, whip out your carpenter’s level if you’re old-school, check your on-board bubble levels if you’ve got ’em, or fire up your LevelMate PRO if you’re firmly in the 21st century. We use LevelMatePRO and absolutely LOVE it – this amazing little device is easily the best money we’ve spent on RVing. In short, it’ll show you how level your rig is from side to side and front to back in real time on your phone. There’s no guesswork, no worrying about a bump in the floor throwing off your carpenter’s level, and no need to even get out of your truck!
If you’re uneven from side to side, now is the time to address it while you’re still hooked up to your truck. The LevelMate PRO will show you in .25″ increments how far down you are on the driver or passenger side of your rig. Bubble levels aren’t as accurate and you’ll have to do some more legwork and practice some more with those.
To come up on one side, you first need to roll forward a little bit and drop your Andersen Levelers behind the tires on the low side. Then just roll back slowly while watching your LevelMatePRO app until the light turns green and you’re level! Put on the emergency brake then hop out and slide the Andersen Leveler’s wedges into place. It’s as simple as that, and even easier if you have a partner managing the placement of the levelers and wedges.
Proper and Safe RV Setup
One thing real quick – DON’T RUSH THIS PROCESS! Your truck is probably sticking out into a road, but that’s perfectly ok! Everyone in that campground knows what you’re doing and everyone wants you to be safe and do things properly. If you see someone coming down the road you’re blocking, they’ll either wait patiently or find another route. They’re not going to judge you or start yelling at you because you’re in the way. Take your time, get unhooked safely, and move your truck out of the way once everything is clear and unhooked.
Let’s go into list mode so this is super easy to follow along with!
Step 1: Wheel Chocks
Whether or not you needed to level your rig, you 100% HAVE TO chock your tires so nothing rolls around. Get yourself some big beefy rubber wheel chocks, not those cheap little plastic deals. You obviously can’t chock wheels that are sitting up on levelers, so put them down in front of and behind the wheels that are on the ground. Make sure to put the side with the thick ribs on the ground too, they’re there to grip the surface a bit to resist sliding. Note: Do NOT install X-Chocks at this step. More on this later!
Step 2: Power
It may seem weird to hook up your power cable at this point, but hear me out. We do this for two reasons: First, if the power post is some distance away, this is a very early chance to make sure your cable is long enough. There’s not much worse than having to re-hook and move your rig because your power cable won’t reach. Second, tongue jacks, stabilizers, and slides do run on 12V battery power, but they run much better on shore power.
Drag that heavy cable over and get it plugged in now! We highly recommend you use at least a basic surge protector when hooking up too. They’ll ensure that the power is wired up properly and that your rig won’t get fried if something weird happens in the campground.
A quick note for 5th Wheel owners: You don’t have a tongue jack for towing or leveling, so steps 3-6 don’t really apply to you the same way. I don’t know much about disconnecting a fiver, leveling one front to back, or running the stabilizers down, so we’ll see y’all back at Step 7!
Step 3: Tongue Jack
Drop some wood blocks, a jack pad, or whatever you prefer underneath your tongue jack’s foot and run it down until it starts taking weight off of your hitch. We like using a pair of 4×4 wooden posts cut about 18″ long because they’re cheap and super sturdy. We use two of them because you want to put enough support under your tongue jack to minimize how far up you need to run it to be level. The higher you have to run your tongue jack up, the more you’re going to have some lateral movement when moving around inside, so we don’t want to waste any of that vertical space just getting the foot down to the ground. If the nose of your rig has to come down, DON’T put two blocks under there – give yourself some room to come down once the truck is out of the way.
Step 4: Disconnect Your Truck
It’s at this point where things diverge a LOT depending on your weight distribution and/or sway control hitch system. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions to get disconnected from your truck and go park out of the way. Don’t forget to unhook your chains, towing cable, and breakaway cable before moving your truck!
Step 5: Level Front to Back
Now that you’re unhooked from your truck, you either need to run the nose of your trailer even higher or back down lower than your truck had it. Go back to your carpenter’s level, bubble levels, or the amazing LevelMatePRO to see how far off level you are. Too low? Run the tongue jack up some more. Too high? Run it down. Simple!
Step 6: Stabilizers
Pretty much all RV’s have two pairs of stabilizers at the front and rear that are meant to reduce shaking and bouncing when you’re moving around inside. These extra “legs” come down from the frame and sit on the ground, giving you four more points of contact in addition to your wheels and tongue jack. There are two main styles of stabilizers: manual and powered. The manual stabilizers look like a car jack and can be operated with a hand-cranked socket or power drill. The powered ones run up and down with the flick of a switch.
We carry around two sets of Lynx Levelers to use under our stabilizers. Ideally, the arms on your stabilizers shouldn’t be run open to more than a 45-degree angle for optimal rigidity, so we stack up however many Lynx blocks we need to reduce the distance they have to run down.
Regardless of the type of stabilizers you have on your rig, DO NOT LIFT YOUR RV with them. They’re not meant to bear weight, so just run them down until they contact the ground or your pads/blocks and snug them down. We’ve seen stabilizers get twisted and bent out of shape when used to lift the rig.
Step 7: X-Chocks
Yes, your wheels are already chocked, but those rubber wheel chocks are just to keep your rig from rolling away by itself. They’re not going to help much, if at all, with unwanted trailer movement when you (or your kids) are inside walking (or bouncing) around. We use a great little product called X-Chocks. They’re a metal scissor-style wedge that you put between your wheels and tighten up with a socket. As you tighten them, pads reach out to either side and clamp in between the wheels. This, in effect, locks the wheels into each other so they can’t roll or flex in any direction.
This cuts down on bounce, sway, and rocking when you’re inside your RV a LOT. We can easily tell the difference when we have them on, and we never set up in a campground without them. Because they go between your wheels you’ll want to put these on before your slides go out so you don’t have to crawl around in the dirt.
As we noted before, these should NOT go on your rig until you’re level because they’re locking your wheels and axles together. If you put them on and then start running the tongue jack up or down you could break the x-chocks, some part of your suspension, or both. They’re also not for actual wheel chocking. With enough force your wheels will rotate with them on whereas traditional rubber chocks keep your wheels from moving by acting like a big wedge they can’t roll over.
Slides and Everything Else
That’s pretty much all you have to do to get your rig set up in a new campground! At this point you just need to run your slides out, hook up water and sewer, run out the awning, pull out the grill and chairs – whatever it is you want to do with your new space. The most important thing in this entire process is to take your time and be safe. Don’t feel rushed if people are watching – RVers are a little bit nosy and love to watch other people run through their setup routines.
Go step by step and you’ll be level, stable, and set up in no time!